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  • Peter J Felice

The Soul of Composition: A Reflection on Shadows of Paris


As of late, I have been silent in regards to music composition. This is not something I really wanted to happen, but coming face to face with the realization on how unbelievably competitive the industry has become and how difficult it is for someone like me to find success in the field has taken its toll on my confidence. In the grand scheme of things, I have little experience when it comes to professionalism in music. I have been to very few music festivals, have only had my name pop-up in two or three competitions, and have yet to contact publishers with the objective of producing my music on a larger scale. Of course, this is not meant to sound like a pity party - these were always my choices to make and I don't regret making them. What I write is very sacred to me, and I am somewhat ashamed to admit that in some way I have been afraid of success in this particular field, and because of this I have held myself back from moving my music to the next level. I have found most of my gratification through writing music that I know my friends and family will enjoy, and have not broadened myself outside of that audience. Is there anything wrong with that? For the past 6 years, I have been perfectly content writing music for community ensembles and friends that were only recorded in live performance - with a few exceptions of course. A little over a week ago - that all changed. On November 13, 2015, the world had to witness yet another horrific terrorist attack - this one occurring in Paris, France. Although this was one of many attacks that happened on that day, as well as throughout the year, this one was particularly troubling because it was the second major attack to happen in Paris that year. A few days later, a good friend of mine, Cory Barnfield, called me up to talk to me about commissioning a new piece for his second album. Because of his strong ties to Paris, he had originally been planning a French-themed album and wanted me to write a piece dedicated by those most affected by the recent attacks. There's no other way to put this - but this project scared the living shit out of me. The first thought that went through my mind was - I wasn't THERE! Nor had I ever experienced something so traumatic. How the hell was I supposed to capture the true emotions of such an awful day in a country that I have never even BEEN TO?! More importantly - a good friend of mine was actually trusting ME, a non-published composer whose biggest achievement was a University honors competition award, with such massive responsibility. Of course - the other voice inside my head reminded me that I love a good challenge. And this, my friends, was a good challenge. Frustration with the road blocks of my craft took the first strike. I had started sketching some ideas, coming up with around 6 or 7 themes, shortly before deleting them (we don't erase in this modern world. We delete things). Some of those ideas I sent to Cory; and we mutually agreed they didn't quite work. Then the holidays came, the snow fell and naturally I became very busy with my new job as a leader in a major retail chain - the project was put on a slight hold till the New Year had arrived. Fending off some crunch-time anxiety in mid-February, I had decided to drive over to Indiana University Southeast - the place where I jump-started my career in music. As I often did while attending school there, I walked down the lakeside pathway that stretched from the north lodges to the south lodges. In the night sky, the flickering lamp posts that stood guarding he path provided adequate light overall, but even they, in their bright illumination, had becomes surrounded by shadowy darkness. I came to realize that much like these towers of light, we are all try our hardest to stay bright among the cloudiness of many parts of our lives. Suddenly, this project didn't seem so far-fetched for me. That night became the true inspiration for 'Shadows of Paris'. I had rushed to a piano in the music department, and constructed a simple three-note motif that became the theme for the entire piece. I sang this short melody a few times, attempting to construct harmonies on the keyboard underneath. It seemed to me that the best arrangement of this tune was to sound it out at its pure melodic contour, so I went with that. At first, I tried utilizing it in the piano. Then I thought - If this piece is supposed to be heart-felt emotion drawn from one's witness to a horrifying event, perhaps it would be better to mimic the human voice - as if someone was crying out to his God begging for answers on why this was allowed to happen. That's when I imagined an individual by the streets of Paris, walking down partially lit sidewalks and remembering his friends who recently fell at the hands of demons. Slowly, he crosses through the shadows and his mind drifts from his sadness into the happiness of remembering the good times he spent with his friends, dining at local cafe's, attending vibrant rock concerts at the Bataclan, and sharing life stories with eachother, before finally coming to the realization that those days have come and gone and that he would have to move on. The piece pretty much wrote itself from that point on, and on April 20, 2016 I sent the first drafts to Cory and his accompanist, Krista Wallace-Boaz. The piece was well received by the two, and after a few edits they began preparing for the recording. Now prior to last summer, I had taken down my soundcloud and youtube accounts, as well as deactivated this website. I had been so preoccupied with my job as well as preparing for my marriage (which will ALWAYS take precedent in every thing that I do), that I had not been able to find time to keep up with my art. I figured, why have a bunch of mediocre pieces of music out there for everyone to listen to if I can't do anything to develop my craft? Despite having spent so much time studying music composition in college, it was once again becoming more of a hobby for me than a career. It was something I would still do, but through mostly local channels among my friends and family. I have been around some pretty amazing composers while attending Michigan State, and had never really felt like I was on their level. In fact, arguably the best piece I wrote while I was up there I wrote in two weeks while exploring the neat sounds on my newly purchased Noteperformer application in Sibelius. They say an artist is never fully satisfied with his work, and that was doubly so for 'Shadows of Paris'. It wasn't that I hated my music, rather I felt the piece was not very successful in capturing the sentiment of that day. I was concerned that some of our Parisian friends might criticize me for even attempting a project of this magnitude. We recorded Shadows of Paris in June of 2016. It was a unique experience for me as it was to be the first commercial recording of any of my music, and despite the fact that there were occasional frustrations and miscommunication between myself and the performers as well as our producer, Rick Morgen, it was a satisfying feeling being able to talk about my work and stand firm on what I was wanting. Now - let's talk last Friday. Although, I was able to listen to a mastered version of my composition in Cory's car well before it had been submitted to Centaur Records, I did not get to hear the final recording in CD form until five days later when I had received my copies from Cory, a week after it had been released. After making it home after a long work day, I put in the CD and listened to the recording. I was speechless. Suddenly, the feelings of discomfort I had had upon completing the piece back in April went away. Suddenly, I felt as though I HAD succeeded in creating a reflective piece of music that was an appropriate tribute to the fallen victims of the terrorist attacks. I don't think I have ever felt so good about something I had written. But in truth, I felt I should humbly step back and say that this piece would not carry the strength it does without the amazing abilities of my performers, Cory Barnfield and Krista Wallace-Boaz. You see, a composer may have the vision and provide the body for the piece - but the soul of composition comes from those who perform it; those who bring the music to life. And Soul is a great way to describe the expressiveness, the emotion, Cory and Krista put into this piece. As I have continuously listened to the recording the past few days, my outlook towards who I am as an artist has changed. Every sustained pitch from Cory's saxophone was handled with such delicate care. Every dynamic contrast and perfectly blended harmony between the two performers successfully evoked the anguish of pain and loss I had intended; every moment where the music faded into nothingness captured feelings of dark isolation. Absolutely amazing. This gorgeous music did not come from the page - it came from two people, extremely gifted in their crafts who grasped the potential in the notes I had written and created something breathtaking. The soul of composition is not about putting the notes on the page. The soul of composition is about the mutual commitment between the composer and the performer in providing music for an audience, eagerly awaiting to be taken away from the reality of their life; awaiting the chance to appreciate something so artistically captivating their worries are set aside if only for a couple of hours. The soul of composition is God's most precious gift to me, and I have been very blessed to share this gift with others and to have them share theirs with me. If you would like to hear 'Shadows of Paris,' please download the mp3 album (or order the CD) from either Amazon or iTunes. But I strongly encourage you to listen to all of the tracks as this one of the best individual artist albums I have ever heard. https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B06XQHSVRV/ref=dm_ws_sp_ps_dp


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